Shauna Niequist: Enough

Shauna, author of the fine memoir Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way, writes a post about not being able to get pregnant and the pain it has caused her. She writes here of some raw emotions, and I think we could have a valuable conversation about responses to pregnancy:

What are your experiences of this? Have you been through this? And for you who have chosen not to have children, how do you respond to this?

Something extraordinary happened to me today.

I found out a dear friend is pregnant. That’s not extraordinary. Everyone I know is pregnant. You think I’m exaggerating, but I have 17 pregnant friends, and 9 friends with babies born since September.  Not just Facebook friends or acquaintances, either—real see-them-at-church, go-to-their-showers, send-them-baby-blankets friends.

It’s an epidemic, and I sometimes think I might be at the center of it—like if you’re my friend, you’re 883,584 times more likely to get pregnant than if you’re not.  I’m like an incredibly successful fertility drug.  My friend Kelly used to say that if you want to get married, you should be his roommate, because for a couple years everyone who moved in with him promptly met someone, fell in love, moved out, and got married.  That’s how I am with pregnancies, I think. Trying to conceive?  I’m your ticket.  It works for you…but it doesn’t seem to be working for me.

Henry will be five this year, and since his first birthday, we’ve been trying to have another baby: seeing doctors, praying, longing. I’ve miscarried twice. After miscarrying twins last February I took a time out to train for the marathon, knowing on some sludgy, inarticulate level that I couldn’t try any more for a while, that my heart couldn’t bear any more.

The marathon was several months ago.  Nothing to report.  And in the meantime, approximately every woman I know between twenty and forty has announced a pregnancy….

It could all change again next month—I know that. I’ve been around this block for years now: easier and harder, more complicated and less. I’m all serene and happy right now but I could be back to throwing glassware next month. This morning, though, I’ll take what I can get.

The word that came to my mind this morning was ENOUGH.

Enough: I don’t want to live like that anymore. And enough: I have enough. I have more than I need, more than I could ask for.  I have a son who delights me every single day. A husband I adore. A family that walks with me well and friends that make the world feel rich.  I do work I care about—no small thing.

It’s not wrong to want another baby…but there’s a fine line in there, and I feel I’ve crossed it a few times this winter, and crossed over into that terrible territory where you can’t be happy unless you have just that thing you want, no matter what else you have. Speaking of children, that’s how they are–demanding, myopic, only able to focus on what they need in that moment. That’s not how I want to live. That’s not who I want to be.

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  • Scot, thanks SO much for posting this.

    If anyone would like to read a little more, the full post and some really great comments from readers are here:

  • Andy P.

    I really appriciate this post. And thanks for posting it Scot because it is a topic that doesn’t get talked about too much in the church world.

    The beginning is hard for me to read because she already has a child and I can’t take any more complaining by anyone who already has a child. Get over it.

    My wife and I have been trying to get pregnant for years. We just found out from the doctors that she has a very severe case of PCOS, and is infertile. There is no possibility, short of a direct miralce by God, for us to have any children biologically (beecause of my wife’s conditions invetro won’t work either). I have a really, really, really hard time feeling bad for someone who already has one child of their own flesh and blood. Both my wife and I are young (early 30s) and healthy, so this comes to us as a big blow.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t feel for anyone’s longing for another child or [her] two miscarriages, it just means that from this side of the fence people who already have a child have nothing to complain about.

    I’ve read Shauna’s two books and appriciate her words very much. I also appriciate her willingness to finally come to, and struggle within, such a realization of her past attitude. She was acting like a spoiled brat with the huge blessing God has given to her and her husband. I’m not trying to sound like a jerk, just a guy who is still raw with emotions of these infertile realizations.

  • Robin

    I don’t think Shauna’s point was the she realized that she needed to be content because God had already blessed her with one child; her point was that she needed to be content with God’s blessing.

    “terrible territory where you can’t be happy unless you have just that thing you want, no matter what else you have”

    Most of us have received tremendous blessings from God, and even if we don’t get that particular blessing we want (2nd child, house with land, 1st biological child) we can still be content, and enjoy the blessings God has given us.

  • I want to tread carefully here, because I in no way want to come across as flippant in a sensitive situation, but I feel like honesty is best. My wife and I chose not to have biological children in favor of adopting. There were many reasons, among them the overwhelming number of children in need of families and the beautiful imagery of our own adoption into the family of God. When we hear of situations like Shauna’s, everything in us screams “Adopt!”

    Again, I do not mean to ignore the pain of infertility or pretend like adoption is an easy alternative, because it isn’t. Still though, raising a child who doesn’t look like you, doesn’t share your DNA, but is still indelibly your child is beautiful, fulfilling, and makes God’s love for us tangible in a way I can’t describe.

  • Andy, I am with you. While my wife is not (to our knowledge) infertile, we have had two miscarriages within the last year and fight the emotions that come with yet another friend celebrating a pregnancy. We hear stories of women with 8 kids that turn them into a circus attraction, only to once again show up for a sonogram that ends in tears while waiting on our first.

    That said, I hear what Shauna is saying hear and deal with it often… we are not obsessing over having a child (at least not too badly) but it does give us a twinge of pain to see the babies being born around us and knowing that we will not see our two until we get to heaven. God has been good to us through this whole thing, and has taught us a great deal… and we are daily learning to celebrate what we do have, it is just an ongoing journey.

  • smcknight

    Thanks Matt, because I think you see that Shauna is herself learning but struggling to rejoice with her many friends who are pregnant.

    The rawness of both Shauna and Andy P make me want to become better at sorrowing with the sorrowful and joyful with the rejoicing — and your witness here encourages me so much.

  • I am a *HUGE* Shauna fan. Let’s get that out of the way first. [Cold Tangerines changed me – period. Great, great stuff.]

    I have a rather low tolerance for people choosing to self-identify by their lack. “I’m infertile”. I also have two sons adopted from foster care and two biological kids that we had to really pray long and hard to decide to conceive because we are so committed to kids who are trapped in a broken system here in the States. But I see a lack of embracing God’s sovereignty when it comes to the infertility issue. I do not believe that adopting because of inability to conceive is plan B, and if people adopt thinking it *is* plan B, I’m not sure they should.

    This is why I love Shauna’s latest post.

    —It’s not wrong to want another baby…but there’s a fine line in there, and I feel I’ve crossed it a few times this winter, and crossed over into that terrible territory where you can’t be happy unless you have just that thing you want, no matter what else you have. Speaking of children, that’s how they are–demanding, myopic, only able to focus on what they need in that moment. That’s not how I want to live. That’s not who I want to be.—

    That’s not who I want to be either, whether we’re discussing babies and family or food or stuff or electronics or Kindles or ipads or what have you. It seems to me that coming to ‘the end of myself’ when it comes to a deep desire and longing is when, if we have ears to hear, God can interrupt with a better way – a still more excellent way – that grows families, but also rescues children with no hope and puts them in Kingdom families. Sounds like a win-win to me.

    Thanks for opening the floor to this topic, Scot, and thanks, Shauna, for your words, your vulnerability, and your desire – today – to look ahead.


  • When someone is in pain, it is so easy to sit back and point out why they shouldn’t be. What Shauna is going through is grief, of losing her children, and of facing the probability of never having any more. Grief, like depression is self focused, but it can also be a great teacher, instructing how to be more empathetic, to realize one doesn’t have control over life. It is painful.

    I lost our baby a little over a year ago and have been through the gamut of emotions.
    What was not helpful were remarks like:
    1. “At least you already have children.”
    2. “It was probably for the best.”
    3. “Remember how much Jesus suffered.”
    Yes, this really was said to me as I was dealing with the information from my midwife that I would probably lose our baby.

    What was helpful was:
    1. For others to sit with me.
    2. Others sharing their stories of loss. (Nothing makes one feel so alone and cursed as losing someone you love. This sharing makes one feel not so alone or cursed.)
    3. Others who know Christ deeply, letting me vent and question and try to make sense of what had happened.

    I am still somewhat sad. I am of the age where it is more difficult to get pregnant, and am coming to accept that I will probably never have another child. I am trusting God, that out of this grief he is remolding me into what he wants me to be. The sculpture’s hand often hurts. I hope for Shauna that the pain becomes easier to bear. I’m certain God is working on a masterpiece.

  • I can sympathize with pain over losing a child and the depression that can come from that. We do need to grieve with those that grieve.

    But what strikes me about this post is that the seeming driver of despair is not grieving over loss of a child, but grieving that others are having children and she can’t be a part of the crowd. Why should the behavior of other couples be a driving factor? It sounds to me like she is experiencing some formative conflict in her life but whenever the reason “everybody else is doing it” appears as the foundation for wants and desires in my own life, I take that as a warning flag.

  • DRT

    I feel for all of you suffering because of child fertility issues. We had one miscarriage and now Thanksgiving days (that’s when it happened) always have a bit of an edge to them.

  • Amanda Furman

    I really appreciate Shauna’s honesty and struggle.

    The conundrum she’s getting at reminds me of my struggle with singleness. I long to grasp presentness/gratitude/mission and hold that in healthy tension with the unfulfilled desire of my heart for a spouse. (which is real, mysteriously deep, and seemingly Biblical).

    Most often though, I go charging ahead full force with one, and leave the other dormant (and festering), resulting in jealousies and self-pity on the one hand, and thinking I’m above it all on the other (Paul syndrome). I so long to be one person who can grasp both realities simultaneously.

  • Edward J.

    Andy P. – Brother, I grieve for you and your wife- I really do. But just because Shauna and her husband have had one child, going through grief over their current inability to conceive does not make her a brat in any way. Likewise, someone who is grieving the loss of a spouse is no less entitled to grieve than someone who is grieving over the loss of a spouse AND a parent in the same year. Experiencing greater pain does not give anyone a monopoly on grief and the right to judge whose expression of it is valid and whose is not. It strikes me as odd that your heartache would not cause you to empathize more with Shauna. I’ve heard it said that the greatest pain for you is the pain you’re walking through right now. Let’s seek to support one another in our pain and brokenness, not judge.

  • I cannot fully identify with Shauna because it was always too easy for my wife and I to get pregnant. But I care deeply about several couples who suffer like Shauna. My prayers are with her, as it is with them.

    However, I certainly identify with the problem of thinking “if just this one would change, I would be happy, or at peace.” This has been a lifelong struggle for me.

    I think of Philippians 4:11, where Paul testifies, “I have trained myself to be content in every situation.” It took training over an extended period of time for Paul, and my training in contentment is long, too. Shauna’s transparency quickens my zeal for that training.

    My breath prayer is “Jesus is enough” I still look forward to the day when that is constantly the state of my heart.

  • Single in the Suburbs

    #11 I hear you. When discussions of infertility arise, my only thought is, “At least you have a husband.” Not the right attitude at all. But, it’s how it is for me. Infertility discussions make me want to scream.

    Jesus is enough.
    But it doesn’t feel like that all of the time.
    And that’s when it’s time to move from a shallow faith to one much more deep.

  • MatthewS

    I’m reading “Inside Out” which emphasizes a need for us to honestly face our disappointments. Living water is for thirsty people. Numbing or denying our thirsts and disappointments costs us in terms of our appreciation for the true living water. In that spirit, honestly naming and feeling her disappointment seems like a very healthy thing for Shauna to do.

    I identify quite a bit with this situation. My wife and I have one son who is quickly approaching 13. No other children have appeared. I can only try to imagine the pain of those who want children but have none. We are so richly blessed to have the child we do have. But there are some very painful moments for us, too. It can be very lonely for one child not to have brothers and sisters to share life with, to learn and grow together, to be able to talk about taboo and difficult subjects, even to fight with. All sane parents feel inadequate some times. That sense can be sharpened when you can’t provide something for your child that seems so essential.

    I’m saying all this because it might seem to others that it’s petty to complain about not having more when you do have one, or feeling pain at the joy of others. Sometimes the heart feels its own quiet pain the sharpest when outwardly and inwardly rejoicing for others.

    This is a really cheesy title but I preached a sermon “Homesick for Heaven in 2011”. We groan in this life but we won’t in the next. I think these longings can point us to heaven, where tears are wiped away and longings are completely met. Unmet longings for a husband, a first child, a second child, a lost child, etc. etc. are in some ways homesickness.

  • AHH

    I think part of what creates heartache for people like Shauna is the environment in the Evangelical church where it is assumed that “married with children” is the way God wants to bless everybody, and where those who are childless, and/or single at certain ages, are marginalized.
    When your surrounding church culture practically worships children and implicitly sends the message that those without children are losers, it is bad enough for those of us who are childless by (mostly) choice. It must be a much harder magnification of the disappointment for those who want to get pregnant but can’t.

  • I appreciate Shauna’s courage to struggle out in the open. I also appreciate the previous commenters who are willing to be honest in their own struggles. My wife and I struggled through 17 years of infertility and failed adoptions until God overwhelmingly blessed us 5 years ago with a beautiful girl. Parenting her is such a thrill, an amazing blessing. But having her does not get rid of all the questions or the confusion. As I said in an article I wrote about this last fall, “Looking back, would I rewrite our story? I don’t think so. Do I feel sad that we couldn’t have biological children? Yes. Do I wish we’d had biological children. Of course. And no. No, because if we’d had biological children it’s hard to conceive of any scenario where we’d have been seeking to adopt children in the year Linnea was born. I doubt we’d have even been contacted about her. And I cannot imagine life without her. I’m not even sure the last few sentences make any sense but then, those are the kinds of confusion infertility leaves in its wake, even if you’ve been blessed with children. Or maybe it’s just life generally that leaves those kinds of questions. We like to have our questions answered. Actually, much of the time we demand they be answered. I’ve learned that with infertility it’s hard to find answers, and the answers given often are not helpful. What matters more is that we come to know and trust the Answer.”

    Life leaves us with confusion. And lots of yearning. We’d love to have another child but adoption is expensive. Natural birth is no longer an option. And I struggle with the fact that I’m 50 now and is it very responsible to adopt a child at my age and likely leave a child fatherless (depending on my health, etc.) early in adulthood? Perhaps foster care will be the way for us to go. And none of this wondering means I am not absolutely overjoyed with the way God already blessed us with our little girl.

  • Eric R

    Angry. That’s how I felt when my wife and I thought we weren’t going to have children. She and I had a deal, I would go to seminary, she would work, and toward the end of my time in school, we would start having children. This was my plan. This was our agreement. The problem was that I made a deal I had no authority to make and no power to fulfill, and I was angry.

    We left our families to go halfway across the country to go to seminary because we thought this is what God wanted from us. We are willing to forego financial security to follow his leading. We only ever wanted one thing in return: children. I was angry. I couldn’t keep my promise to my wife because God was not fulfilling the promise I imposed on Him. I was angry. A young woman in our college ministry became pregnant. The father was any one of three young men. She wasn’t sure. I was angry. Some good friends were constantly complaining about how hard it was to have baby in the house. I was angry. My wife would cry. I was angry. People would say stupid things like, “How’s it feel to be the only people in the room without kids.” I was angry. Rumors went around that my wife really wanted to have kids, but I wouldn’t allow it. To protect her dignity, I allowed myself to be maligned, but I was angry. This went on for about 2 years.

    I didn’t really face any of these emotions until I hit rock bottom. Stress was hindering me from studying well. I was getting a “D” in a summer crash course in Hebrew, and I didn’t have enough energy to care. I was temporarily laid off from my job that provided the healthcare coverage that was paying for the VERY expensive doctor visits. I finally broke during a chapel service while singing “It Is Well With My Soul.” Things were most certainly not well. I went to the office of a mentor of mine and cried like I’ve done only one other time in my adult life. I was as low as I’ve ever been.

    Here’s the kicker: two weeks after this breakdown, I had a “B” in Hebrew, I got my job back, and my wife was 3 weeks pregnant. We now have three beautiful daughters. For us, my wife’s PCOS could be overcome, but what if it were not so? Ultimately, we got what we wanted, but what if not? I know we grew through this experience, but how would my faith have faired if we didn’t get our way? I still think about this question, and I don’t really have an answer.

    One thing I now know: God is not predictable, and he is not to be bargained with.

  • My husband and I have been married thirty-one years, and we are still in love. We wanted so much to create a child together, but I will never give birth. We had seven years with no “success,” followed by seven early pregnancy losses and three failed adoptions. We finally had a successful adoption, and today our daughter is fifteen.

    Yet it still bothers me enough to make me stop grading papers and putting together seminary lectures to write a comment on a blog when I read statements such as, “raising a child who doesn’t look like you, doesn’t share your DNA, but is still indelibly your child is beautiful, fulfilling…”

    This comment seems to me to connect longing/loss over the desire to have a biological child with being stuck on genetics or one’s reflection. Yet Proverbs 30:16 suggests it’s a God-designed desire, not the product of a messed up value system.

    When Eve gave birth to her firstborn son, she exclaimed, “I’ve created an ‘adam’ with the help of the Lord!” It was a miracle. Amazing! Adam’s love and her love had resulted in a little bit of him and a little bit of her. Two people’s intimacy produced a human being.

    I will never know what that is like. What a marvel it must be to create a child with the love of your life. My longing to parent and mold the next generation is totally fulfilled in my daughter. But in the same way my daughter will always wish she were connected biologically to our family, there will always be a part of me that wishes I could have had a child with my husband.

    Pat Johnston, in her book ADOPTION AFTER INFERTILITY, identifies six losses associated with infertility, and only one of them is solved by adoption–the desire to nurture and parent the next generation. Couples grieving their loss should not adopt until they’ve worked through their grief, so I think “just adopt” is some of the worst advice people can give to those who are being honest about their pain. It’s too soon…

    Paul didn’t say to cheer up, give advice to, or guilt those who weep. He said to weep with them. The appropriate response is empathy.

    And that goes for those who think if you have one child already, you should be so eternally grateful that you don’t get to express grief–as if you LOSE the Suffering Olympics because somebody else (the one with no kids) gets the gold.

    Pain is pain is pain.

  • Jodi

    Infertility is a painful disease because it’s so private and personal. There are many hidden messages that come to couples who do not have children. That’s the hardest part. So I’ve known the pain of people accusing me of being too ambition, or paying too much attention to my career to ever get pregnant. They don’t know the first thing about what we’ve been through and how hard it is to pursue treatment for infertility while working full time. Infertility lives with you forever. While I no longer wish to be pregnant, (we turned 50 last year), I do still hurt. I worry about growing old and alone. I miss watching kids open presents at Christmas or seeing what our biological offspring would look like, if they’d be athletic, what sports or interests they would choose. I grieve that my parents will never be grandparents. I hate mother’s day. And I feel bad about hating mother’s day, but I don’t know how to celebrate something that I so wanted and never got. I do not begrudge others who are able to conceive but from them I need a little compassion if I don’t oooo and ahhhh about their kids all the time. The tips I would offer are these:
    1. Don’t back away from our friendship once you have kids. That’s been hard…I already feel excluded from the primary girl club in the world and not being able to maintain our friendship in spite of the longings other people’s children may create, I need the parent’s friendship.
    2. Don’t ask why we never adopted or how long we tried but at an appropriate moment, ask how not having children still affects us. Also, understand that adoption does not replace the loss of never conceiving or creating a biological child with your own genes.
    3. Around Mother’s Day, send your friends without kids a special note telling them that they are cool or special or have made an impact on you. It’s hard not having little ones in your life that adore you.
    4. Understand that the affection I am willing to show other people’s kids at any given moment may be limited. Don’t take this personally. Understand that the pain of connecting with other children, especially little ones, is sometimes too much to bear.
    5. Understand that I don’t go to baby showers, ever, and don’t make me feel like I should be bigger than that. It is one of the most painful gatherings for me and I’ve decided that I just don’t need the stigma I feel when I’m there.
    6. Never make a woman feel like her career has impaired her ability to have children. Men are never made to feel this way and many women without children would welcome the chance to be a stay at home mom, with all of the challenges embedded in that, but have never had the choice so they work. What else am I supposed to do? If I don’t work, then others will criticize me for “staying at home and doing nothing.”
    7. Finally, don’t ever make people feel less than if they don’t have kids. Life is fulfilling on a number of levels. I like to tell people that we experienced a sad thing but we do not have a sad life.
    Infertility is painful…and never stops being painful. The level of pain settles down however. When a couple is in the midst of it, it is intense. For the woman, the medical demands are very high. You get stuck with needles constantly and the emotional roller coaster is the worst I’ve ever experienced. We haven’t tried to get pregnant for 9 years now and I’ve accepted that we will never have kids. For the record, we did try adoption and doors just never opened. We accept our situation and seek to use our lives in different ways than we could’ve with kids. But we still feel the stigma of people thinking we’re selfish or that they can’t be our friends because our families don’t “match”. The grief of never having children is a significant loss. Seek to treat it as such and be willing to journey alongside of people through all the stages of grief they will experience as an infertile couple.

  • I am walking this same path. While some circumstances may be different, the reality is that my will struggles against God’s every single moment. It’s an all out battle. Whether it’s a restless, “there has to be something I can do to become a mother,” or the want for children becoming an idol, or anger over past events edging into sin, it all comes back to my brokenness.

    And failed adoptions are an acute reminder of broken relationships. A body diseased and unable to conceive is “broken.” My jealousy of others reminds me of how broken I am. The hurt that stands in the way of truly rejoicing with friends reminds me.

    Never before have I been so aware of the hurt of others since going through childlessness. Like other commenters have said, there are words that encourage and accept, and words that divide and ostracize.

    It’s so hard to hold our own hurt with open hands so we can enter into the suffering of another.

  • DRT

    Much pain here, but Jodi and Angela, I will pray that you are emotionally healed forever!

    Jodi, thank you for the detail. I see you understand that some who have children may not understand what you are going through and having the specifics like gave helps me a lot to know what to do.

  • DRT

    I am sure the others will forgive me, but I just pointed to Jodi and Angela because that is all I read this morning….

  • Rebekah Hall

    I read Shauna’s book in the fall and really treasured it because it was honest and yet it pressed us (as readers) to keep growing and persist in our pursuit of the Lord, from wherever we are currently at. I’m thirty and single and although I know it isn’t the same as not being able to conceive, there are some striking similarities in how you feel in the Christian community and what kinds of well-intentioned, but unhelpful things Christians say to try to ‘comfort’ the single.
    You know what? There are times when it feels isolating to be on the outside of the church circle, which is how you feel if you aren’t happily married with wonderful children. It sucks. Really. But, God is present and He’s moving and He’s changing those of us who are lacking some of those apparent ‘essentials.’ We are being transformed and shaped if we permit Him to guide us on the journey.
    I am more real and compassionate because I didn’t get what I wanted when I wanted it. I love God more and I value the gifts He has given on a greater level because I’ve gone without some things and I’ve waited a long time for other things.
    May God keep working in those who want children, but can’t conceive…and may He also work in the hearts and minds of those who have them and can’t quite understand. May He still knit us together as a Body.

  • Andie Piehl

    Thank you for sharing this, Scot. My daughter and her husband couldn’t have children. They went through all the medical ‘stuff’ and it just became way too difficult to spend their lives trying to conceive. They quit and began attending foster parenting classes for those who wish to adopt. I now have 2 precious grandchildren to bless my heart beyond compare, and my daughter and her husband are both happy and couldn’t love their kids more had they conceived them. I’m sure Jennifer would really relate to this letter because it was just so painful trying all the time with no results. God is good and he will honor her acceptance of his good gifts whatever they are. Thanks again for sharing this.

  • RobS

    We had something similar in that we conceived the first one, but then it took about three years for the second with numerous challenges. One thing it really put in perspective is the emotions and pain that Shauna described. Also, we have become much more sensitive to people without children and always work to avoid asking questions about “when are you going to have kids?” because for some people it’s not being realized and there is a lot of pain.

    We were then later blessed with a second child, but many lessons in patience and sensitivity learned.